"Bloody Sunday"—A Tragedy that Became a Sign

Most of the world knows about the Russian “Bloody Sunday” of 1905, but few other than Orthodox Christians know that Tsar Nicholas II and his entire family are saints, canonized by the Russian Church. As time distances us from the events leading up to the Bolshevik revolution, it becomes clearer how various world forces were working together inside and outside of Russia to bring down the monarchy, destabilize the country, and institute a new order that was less supportive of a Russian national identity, and more congenial to an international schedule of intentions. That the Japanese helped finance a Paris conference aimed at destabilizing Russia during the Japanese war, that the Germans sponsored Lenin and returned him to Russia just as she was about to win World War I, and that American tycoons helped finance anarchist terrorists at a time when pogroms were occurring in the south of Russia and the Ukraine, all become more obvious as factors enabling the truly bloody revolution in Russia, and the overthrow of the lawful monarch. One can say, c’est la guerre, but let it not sully the name of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, the holy Royal Martyrs and Passion Bearers, who were targets of these forces simply because they were the sovereigns of a powerful Orthodox nation. An article from the Moscow periodical, Tatianin Den (St. Tatiana day) discusses what happened on that day.

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Загрузить увеличенное изображение. 1223 x 845 px. Размер файла 234877 b.
 January 9, 1905. A group of demonstrators blocked by the guard.
January 9, 1905. A group of demonstrators blocked by the guard.
The event known as "Bloody Sunday" has been linked to Tsar Nicholas II from the day it happened, to the present time. Even in Russia, where he and his entire family are venerated as martyrs, one still finds people who cannot forgive Tsar Nicholas II for the infamous "Bloody Sunday". Not all know that on that day, the Tsar was in Tsarskoe Selo, and not in St. Petersburg, that he did not give the orders to fire at the workers, and it was physically impossible for him to have received the delegation "of the people." Furthermore, the Tsar was criminally misinformed about what was happening in the capital city.

Even some of those who know that the Tsar was not in St. Petersburg at the time insist that he consciously "hid himself from the people", and was "bound by duty to come and receive the petition" that the crowd had brought for his attention. For many, even for some Orthodox Christians, the idea of that fateful day of January 9, 1905 is utterly incompatible with the idea of the Tsar's sainthood.

Was the Tsar responsible?

In the "Material connected with the question of the canonization of the Royal Family" (published by the Synodal committee for the canonization of saints in 1996, hereafter called the "Material"), a separate, thorough article was dedicated to the tragedy of January 9, in the conclusion of which is stated: "The Tsar bore the burden of moral responsibility before God for all the events that occurred in the state entrusted to him." Thus, a share of responsibility for the tragic events of January 9, 1905 lies on the Emperor. The Tsar, as we shall see, did not deny this responsibility. It is worth noting that the "Material" was released as a separate book, entitled, He Forgave Everyone… Emperor Nicholas II. The Church on the Royal Family (St. Petersburg, 2002).

"Just the same," the Material states, "this share of responsibility cannot at all be compared with the moral and historical guilt for the willful or involuntarily preparation or failure to prevent the tragedy of January 9, which lies on such historical players as, for example, the defrocked priest, George Gapon, or the dismissed Minister of Interior Affairs, Peter Dimitrievich Sviatopolk-Mirsky." That the latter was assigned to this position, or that he was not removed from it in time, could hold Nicholas II liable for reproach. If only such reproach were not the ad nauseum of knowing better what the Tsar should have done.

The Minister "of trust".

In mid July of 1904, the Minister of Interior Affairs, Vyacheslav Konstantinovich von Plehve, was killed by a bomb thrown into his carriage. The Tsar did not decide immediately upon his replacement. The appointment came only in August, 1904. This was apparently a maneuver by the Tsar, because unlike the conservative Plehve, Sviatapolk Mirsky was famous for his liberal tendencies. In autumn of 1904, liberalism entered Russian history as "the spring of Sviatopolk-Mirsky", who openly proclaimed the need for trusting relations between the government and society. This was a time of social unrest in Russia. Throughout "society" under various pretexts, talk of the need for change and the need for a constitution could be heard. A meeting of the elective district council (zemstvo) took place in Petersburg, which had not received permission from Nicholas II to open, but having received implicit permission from Sviatopolk-Mirsky, who let the delegates know that he would look the other way during its duration. The meeting unanimously accepted a liberal declaration and presented it to "their" Minister, to the latter's great chagrin. The Tsar was outraged, but did not accept the Minister's resignation.

When it had already become known that a demonstration of unprecedented scope was in the making, the Minister of Interior Affairs reassured himself and others with the words that it would be enough to explain to the people that the Tsar was not in the capital, and they would peacefully disperse… Help from the army, he supposed, would only be needed to prevent a crush in the center of town. On the evening of January 8, 1905, Sviatopolk-Mirsky came to Tsarskoe Selo and reported on the situation in the capital to the Tsar. He assured him that despite the enormous number of striking workers, the situation does not merit serious caution; he did not say a single word about the upcoming march of workers to the Winter Palace, the calling of army battalions to the capital, and the plans to oppose the demonstration using the armed forces. When he had returned to St. Petersburg late that evening, he conducted a governmental meeting about the plans for the following day…

A suitable personage.

George Gapon
George Gapon
A tragedy was unavoidable. Thanks to the inspired (one wants to say, infernally inspired) activity of George Gapon during the days leading up to it, tens of thousands of workers had coalesced to go to the Tsar as to their only intercessor…

The name of George Gapon has long been united with the tag, "provocateur", and he as an individual has never been deemed worthy of attention. In the "Material", as well as in the book, George Gapon: Truth and Fiction, by I. Ksenofontov (Moscow 1997), and in the more recent book by M. Pazin, Bloody Sunday. Behind the Scenes of the Tragedy, (Moscow 2009), Priest George Gapon is presented as an outstanding and gifted man. From his early years he felt compassion for working people, and thought about how to help them in deed. His intentions were sincere, and his compassion was unfeigned; otherwise, he would not have been so able to win people's hearts, as he doubtlessly did. But unfortunately, his better feelings were mingled with ambition and excessive status seeking. Possessing in addition a gift for theatrics, he was able to win the trust of the most common people as well as the highly placed. The modern Orthodox historian, Fr. Vasily Sekachev, takes a merciful and thoughtful view of this man in the periodical Neskuchny Sad dedicated to the 100-year anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," in an article entitled, "The Tragedy of Priest Gapon". Truly, "Woe to him through whom temptations come." George Gapon was a just too suitable a figure for the provocateur of the human race, the devil, whose "special mission" he fulfilled quite diligently.

Gapon's main "baby" was the "Union of Russian factory workers of St. Petersburg", a legal organization created in order to encourage mutual aid between workers, and to conduct various cultural-enlightenment events for them. The historian S. Oldenburg was not entirely fair when he placed Gapon entirely on the side of the revolution. Gapon did not really know what he wanted, he was loyal neither to the government, nor to the revolutionaries who had infiltrated his circles (which is why the socialist revolutionary Esser party murdered him in 1906), he simply wanted to be seen, and therefore unavoidably veered to the "left". A certain "secret five", who led the Union, was made up of opposition-minded people, connected also with the Social Democrats, and possibly with the Essers. The police's inaction was outrageous; but this was also a result of Gapon's theatrics—the authorities trusted him entirely.

The idea of marching to the Tsar.

Nevertheless, the march of January 9 can hardly be considered a provocation calculatingly prepared by revolutionaries. There was both preparation and spontaneity. It is another matter that in September, 1904 in Paris, there had already been a conference (funded by Japanese money! This was during the Russo-Japanese War) of powers oppositional to the Russian Empire, one of whose resolutions was to use every crisis to further the creation of a revolutionary situation. However, such a gift as it was to the Leftist powers—"a shooting by the Tsar at a peaceful demonstration"—became possible largely thanks to the enthusiastic activity of George Gapon. The concentration of attention upon the Tsar, an arousal of general hope in the Tsar, who was "fenced off by bureaucrats" from the people, an address to the Tsar personally—all this was the creative demagogy of Gapon. As a result, the simple-hearted people went "to see the Tsar", dressed in clean clothes, with their children… None of the activists of the revolutionary movement loved the Tsar (naturally), and even less did they pay any attention to the love that common people had for him. Gapon did not know the people he had turned to.

One of the columns marching.
One of the columns marching.
In the book cited above by I. Ksenofontov are the recollections of Karelin, one of the members of the "secret five", a social democrat, concerning the autumn of 1904: "We tightly pushed the idea of demonstrating with a petition at every meeting, in every department" (he is talking about the departments of the "Union of factory workers"). The same Karelin testified that Gapon at first viewed the idea negatively. But at the beginning of 1904, he understood that he must choose. To the questions of "When will we demonstrate?" he answered that a large strike was needed, that they needed to wait until the fall of Port Arthur, and possibly his answers were for him dissuasions, delays of what he himself sensed was coming…

On December 21, Port Arthur fell. At the end of December, a reason for a large strike arose: at the Putilov Factory, four workers, members of the Union, were supposedly fired. In fact, there was only one (!) worker fired, but one lie led to another, the agitation grew, and demands about their comrades at work became "economic demands", amongst which were some total impossibilities, like an eight-hour day (unthinkable during wartime at a factory that filled orders from the military) or free medical services not only for the workers, but also for their family members. The strike escalated, at times spontaneously, at times not at all spontaneously. The activists of the striking facility appeared at the working facility and forced the workers (for example, by threats of beatings) to drop their work. How this took place is described in detail in the above mentioned book by M. Pazin, and in a book by P. Multatuli, The Lord has Visited Us Harshly by His Wrath… Emperor Nicholas II and the Revolution of 1905–1907 (Moscow, 2003).

Demonstrators carrying a portrait of the Tsar.
Demonstrators carrying a portrait of the Tsar.
By January 6, several tens of thousands of workers had gone on strike. The text of the petition was basically ready, and Gapon went that day from one department of the Union to another to give a speech explaining to the workers the essence of the demands formulated in their name. He gave the speech no less than twenty times. On that very day, he expressed the idea of going that Sunday to the Tsar "all in peace". The workers received it enthusiastically.

A Petition, or an ultimatum?

The text of the petition was cited in Pazin's book. It is worth reviewing it in order to understand why the Tsar paid no attention to it and spoke plainly about a revolt. Only in textbooks on Russian history is it even now written that the workers wanted to bring to the Tsar "their needs and longings." Written in a rather ugly style of "lamentation," the petition begins with a description of the factory owners' disdain for the workers, the assertion that the laws only safeguard the workers' suppression, that Russia is perishing under the bureaucratic government", and so on. Further follows this passage, for example: “Is it possible to live under such laws? Wouldn’t it be better for all of us workers to die? Let the capitalists and bureaucrats live and enjoy themselves.” Further: “This is what has brought us to the walls of your palace. Here, we are seeking our final salvation. Do not refuse to help your people, lead them out of the grave of suppression… etc.” What do the “workers” see as the solution? In a Constituent Assembly, no more, no less, for, as it says in the petition, “It is necessary that the people help themselves and govern themselves.” The Tsar is given the suggestion to “Swiftly command that they call together representatives of the Russian land… Command that the elections in the Constituent Assembly would take place under conditions of total, secret, and equal votes. This is our main request; in it and upon it is built everything, this is the most important and only bandage for our wounds.” Then follow thirteen sections: all freedoms, the ministers’ responsibility “before the people,” political amnesty, discontinuation of all indirect taxes, and even “stopping the war at the people’s will.” The petition ended with the words, “Command it to be so, and swear that you will fulfill them… And if you do not will it, if you do not respond to our request, we will die here, on this square, before your palace.”

Gregory Gapon and workers.
Gregory Gapon and workers.
There is a diabolic texture penetrating this “lamentation”. We can feel the same texture also in the description of Gapon’s speech, supposing as he was (like in a dream!) to personally enter the palace and hand the Tsar a special copy of the petition, printed on the best paper. “Well, I will hand the Tsar the petition, and what will I do if the Tsar accepts it? Then I will take out a white handkerchief and wave it, which will mean that we have a Tsar. And what should you do? You should disperse to your respective parishes and immediately choose your representatives for the Constituent Assembly. And what if the Tsar does not accept the petition, then what will I do? I will raise a red flag, which means that we do not have a Tsar, that we ourselves must fight for our rights…” There is a peaceful march for you! It is appropriate to note here, as a prelude to the next story, that one of the columns that marched on January 9 was revolutionary, plain and simple, carrying not portraits of the Tsar, but red flags.

There were different things going on.

Around 150,000 people took part in the demonstration. Columns marched from different ends of the city toward the center, were met by army battalions blocking the way, but the columns kept walking anyway. After the third warning, the battalions began firing, and only then did the people scatter. Some remember that there was no warning trumpet heard. But others recall that the column continued moving not only after the warning, but also after the first shots. This means that there were “animators” inciting them to further movement. Furthermore, someone from the columns shot at the battalions first. These were also not workers, but revolutionaries or students who had infiltrated the columns. Resistance to the army was particularly serious on Vasiliev Island. Here, barricades were set up. Bricks were thrown at the guard from a building under construction, and shots came from it as well.

Detail from the painting, "Vasiliev Island". K. Makovsky.
Detail from the painting, "Vasiliev Island". K. Makovsky.
In the situation that developed, much depended upon specific people. In part (and much evidence of this can be found in the books by M. Pazin and P. Multatuli), the guard behaved themselves very restrainedly. The famous sketch by K. Makovsky for the painting, “January 9, 1905 on Vasiliev Island”, where a man with an inspired appearance tears open his shirt, offering his chest for shooting, actually came from reality—only the man rending his garment behaved hysterically and shouted senselessly, no one shot at him, but rather related to him good-naturedly. In some cases, (for example, on Moscovsky Prospect, or near the Alexander Nevsky Lavra), the column peacefully stopped in front of the guard, listened to their persuasion, and dispersed. There were examples of callousness on the part of the guard. There are the accounts of E. Nikolsky about Colonel Riman, at whose command the guard shot without warning at people who had nothing to do with the march, and about the frightening impressions of that day in general. Also, however, the behavior of Captain Litke is known, whose company tried to prevent the gathering of a raging crowd in the area of the Kazan Cathedral. People threw stones, sticks, and pieces of ice at his men, showering them with insults. Litke, however, restrained his men and preferred to retreat to a secluded area, not attempting to solve the problem with force. He was not able to clear out Nevsky Prospect right away, breaking up the crowd with rifle butts “due to their stubbornness and animosity,” as he wrote in his report. Especially aggressive was the crowd that gathered by the gate of Alexandrov Park, where they shouted insults at the guard, yelled, whistled, and at the warnings shouted, “Shoot us.” After repeated peaceful attempts and three warning trumpets given with pauses in between, shots were fired, the crowd scattered, leaving around thirty people dead and wounded.

According to official statistics, there were 128 people killed in all (including police), and 360 wounded (including guard and police). According to the Bolshevik historian V. Nevsky, who was a witness to the events of January 9, 1905, there were from 150 to 200 people killed. Meanwhile, certain authors (for example, Edward Radzinsky), and textbooks still write that there were thousands of victims.

The Tsar learned of it in the evening

Nicholas II wrote in his diary, “A heavy day! In Petersburg there were serious disorders as a result of the workers’ desire to reach the Winter Palace. The guard had to shoot in various areas of the city, and there were many killed and wounded. Lord, how painful and heavy!”

The Tsar found a person who restored order in the capital, although not immediately. This was D. F. Trepov, who became the Governor-General of the capital. On January 18, there was a meeting of ministers regarding the events, with Witte presiding. A manifesto was proposed in which sorrow and horror was expressed over the tragedy of January 9, and which would also point out that the Tsar did not know about the proposed march of the people to the palace, and that the army acted without his orders. However, the Tsar agreed with the opinion of Count Solsky, who said at the meeting that the army cannot act without the Tsar’s orders. The Emperor did not wish to throw off his responsibility, and refused the idea of a manifesto. He assigned Trepov the task of gathering a delegation of workers from various factories, which he received on January 19.

“You allowed yourselves to be drawn into error and deception by traitors and enemies of our Motherland,” said the Tsar. “I know that the life of a worker is not easy. Much should be improved and sorted out. But to announce your needs to me through a mutinous crowd is criminal.” At the Tsar’s initiative, a commission was established to clarify the workers’ needs with the participation of people chosen from amongst them. The elected representatives gathered and … presented a series of political demands! The commission thus never did begin its work.

Triumph of those seeking an occasion

In his book, On the Cusp of Two Epochs, Bishop Benjamin (Fedchenkov) wrote about January 9, “Here, faith in the Tsar was shot at (but not yet shot to death). I am a man of monarchistic bent, <…>, and I felt a wound in my heart <…> the charm of the Tsar fell. <…> Faith fell in both the Tsar’s power, and in that order [of society].” What, then, could be said of those who are not of monarchistic bent? The slogan, “Down with sovereignty!” was already in the air. Now, slander against the Tsar could and did reach its apogee. No one believed (and even now, many do not believe) that the Tsar was not in the capital on January 9. They wanted to assume, and do assume, that the Tsar himself did not want to receive a peaceful delegation of workers with a peaceful presentation of their needs and longings, but instead gave orders to fire upon the people. This false account of the event became so generally accepted, that it is still taught in the schools of various countries. At the time, a leftist satirical periodical called, L’Assiette au Beurre (literally, “plate of butter” or “profitable place”) published a caricature of Nicholas II, where the Tsar is holding his year old tsarevich (who was actually only five months old at the time) and showing him delightfully the palace square with a mass of dead people. A fierce looking Cossack stands behind him.

Osip Mandelstam wrote in one provincial newspaper for the seventeenth anniversary of the tragedy, that is, in 1922, an article entitled, “The Bloody Mystery of January 9”. There is a statement in this article that, “Any child’s cap, mitten, or woman’s scarf thrown pitifully that day in the Petersburg snow left a reminder that the Tsar must die, that the Tsar will die.” It is unlikely that the poet was recalling by this the executed royal children, or was gloating about revenge. He was writing about a “mystery of retribution.” [The death of both the protesters and the royal family remind us of "the mystery of iniquity, which is already at work." —OC]

No one cared about the meeting that the Tsar then had with the workers, about the large sum of money paid to the families that suffered on that day (50,000 rubles, the equivalent of just less than $600,000 today). Nor did anyone care about the government commission he formed to attend to the workers’ needs, nor that in 1906 the periodical Byloe (What Was) (No.1) printed an article with a truthful and thorough account of the events of January 9, 1905. Let’s hope that at least now there are people who want to know the truth about those events.

Translation by OrthoChristian.com


Seraphim McCune4/12/2021 11:06 pm
It is good to see that facts still matter in some places. The Socialists had their hand in every pot they could get it into in order to incite such sad events and then smear the blame all over St. Nikolai. Bolshevik lies have penetrated even some parts of the Church. Yes, mistakes were made. No, the Tsar-Martyr did not will them and had done more to improve the lives of the workers and peasants than any of his predecessors, including his father and grandfather. It just goes to show that "no good deed goes unpunished" as the expression goes.
Roman1/29/2021 10:07 am
Excellent synopsis, very grateful to have access to this information in English. God bless you.
Ken Joyce1/4/2020 10:35 pm
Excellent work. It is not only this incident that people have fallen the victim of lies. The Left's control over history, when challenged, reveals the fact that most history written since the rise of Marxism is a lie.
Joseph5/28/2019 11:40 am
Anon: You are very uninformed, and ignorant of history and reality. You obviously know nothing about Emperor Nicholas II or the Russian Empire, and therefore it is useless to even answer you. May God enlighten your darkness.
Anon5/28/2019 5:49 am
I thoroughly do not agree with this...Bloody Sunday is totally irrelevant in the face of Nicholas' larger crimes of imperialism. He used all his power to maintain the autocracy, aka the system that kept the workers in poverty in the first place...you all are just making excuses to justify your support of nationalism and far-right politics. May God spare you when your time comes for judgement
John1/25/2016 7:05 pm
Finally someone said the truth about that tragic event. How can some people be so blind and cannot understand that this was just a provocation for the "revolution" of 1905.
Dianne Lang9/1/2014 3:45 pm
Thank you for showing me another side to this story.
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